“The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”
We all have something stored in our memory banks of the past that we wish we could have done differently, or something we wish we didn’t do.
As we get older we learn and grow, but that doesn’t mean we have to regret what we did before we learned how to do things differently. If we didn’t go through those experiences, we might not have grown into the strong and knowledgeable people we are today.
What I’m proposing is that we get rid of the negative thoughts—the could haves, might haves, and should haves—and start living a life that won’t make us feel regretful. Not even at an older, wiser age.
Here is a list of things you can do to practice living life with no regrets:
1. Realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. Just make sure to learn from them, forgive yourself, and move on.
2. Make your health and wellness a top priority and always take care of yourself so you’re ready to take care of others.
3. Follow your own path, not one that others want you to follow.
4. Find the humor in life and laugh like there is no tomorrow.
5. Relax and move with the flow of life by being unafraid of change.
6. Be adventurous by trying new things and taking more risks.
7. Have more intellectual curiosity and embrace creativity.
8. Try to find happiness with as many different people as you can.
9. Think for yourself instead of letting other people’s opinions influence you too much.
10. Try not to judge people before you get to know them.
11. Be thankful for what you have now instead of thinking about what you don’t have.
12. Wish well upon everyone equally and try to admire without envy.
13. Share your happiness with others instead of hoarding it all for yourself.
14. Don’t try to change someone—love who they are now.
15. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
16. Know that happiness is bigger than any bank account.
17. Control negative thoughts so that they don’t contribute to the outcome of your life.
18. Use your energy wisely because spending energy complaining, worrying, or being impatient is just wasted energy.
19. Be bold. Find the courage to change things that should be changed and accept that there are some things that cannot be changed.
20. Love your work. If you don’t currently love what you do, figure out what you would love and take the first step toward that life.
21. Turn your discontent into a mystery and enjoy trying to solve it.
22. Face problems from different angles in order to find solutions.
23. Gain independence by realizing that on this earth we are all dependent upon each other.
24. Change your perspective by taking on a wider view of things.
25. Don’t waste time trying to bring disagreeable people around to liking you.
26. Become the person you would like to spend the rest of your life with.
27. Be honest with yourself and others by saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
28. Treat people with respect and compassion.
29. Live in the now by loving the present and being aware of your thoughts and actions. Think happy thoughts and speak powerful words.
30. Try not to put things off until later.
31. Never hold grudges.
32. Face your fears head on and try to do the things that you think you cannot do.
33. Spend time with people who make you happy while also not depending on other people for your own happiness.
34. Stand up for yourself and others and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.
35. Be yourself and love who you are now.
36. Be a participant in life rather than an observer.
37. Do the things that you love to do as much as you can.
38. Write out a list of goals and achieve them by doing them step by step. Don’t give up when things get difficult.
39. Do something every day that makes you feel proud of yourself—commit random acts of kindness whenever you get the chance.
40. And always keep on moving forward.
I know it seems like a rather large list of things to take on, but you can accomplish a lot on this list by doing just one thing. For example, right now as I’m typing this I’m putting into practice at least eighteen things.
Put these things into practice and see where life takes you, without regrets. And please comment below. I’d love to read your thoughts on this.
As a former hospice social worker, I learned a lot about regret. It was shocking how many of my hospice patients got to the end of their lives wishing they had lived differently. Many had unresolved relationship issues, unfulfilled dreams, and long-held resentments. My role was to help them come to terms with their regrets while they still had the chance. Some were able to find some resolution, but for others, it was too late, and they died still hanging on to regrets.
This impactful experience became a huge motivator for me to start living as if any day could be my last. We never know how long we will live, so we must make conscious choices each day to live fully and make the most out of each experience we have. Here are ten ways to start living life with no regrets.
1. Let your loved ones know you love them.
The experience of love is one of the best things in life. When you love someone, let both your words and deeds be loving. No one is promised tomorrow, so tell your loved ones each day how much they mean to you. Not only will your relationships grow, but you will as well.
2. Follow your dream.
So often, we are so busy trying to live up to the expectations of others that we do not allow ourselves to follow our own dream. Pursue the longings of your heart. When we ignore them, we miss the opportunity to reach our full potential and experience that deep fulfillment that following our dreams can offer.
3. Trust your gut instincts.
Your intuition is your best source of guidance. Whereas rational decisions come from your thinking mind only, your gut is that “all-knowing” part of you that if paid close attention to and acted on, will never lead you astray. When we use logic as our primary thinking mode, we miss many opportunities that our gut may have led us to.
4. Keep your work at work.
Earning a living is important, but not to the exclusion of other things. To fully participate in all aspects of life, such as spending time with loved ones and enjoying meaningful activities, we should leave work at work. Without a proper work/life balance, we miss out on the things that are most important to us. When we reach the end of our lives, it is not our work that matters, but the people we loved.
5. Take risks.
Staying within our comfort zone may be safe, but it is impossible to achieve greatness by living cautiously. Identifying one way each day to move outside our familiar comfort zone will help us take the risks needed to propel us forward and achieve a fuller, more gratifying life.
6. Take life less seriously.
Life is far too short to be spent worrying about things that are beyond our control. Allow happiness and fun to be part of your life each day. Being mindful and open to the good that is present in all situations can help us not to take life so seriously and is a key ingredient to having a more enjoyable life.
7. Turn “failures” into stepping stones.
Don’t quit when you perceive you have failed. Instead, use the experience to learn from and grow. It has been noted that Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before he succeeded in creating the light bulb. Can you imagine if he had he quit that we might still be living in the dark? A failure is always a stepping stone in disguise.
8. Practice forgiveness.
At some point in life, we all have been hurt. How we deal with that hurt is up to us. Some people stay stuck in bitterness their entire lives and never move beyond the pain. By choosing to forgive, we release ourselves from the grip of resentment and can move forward in our lives.
9. Be yourself.
We hear this statement all the time, but it is the truth. We have our own values, beliefs, personality traits, and desires. When we deny any part of our authentic self, we die a little death on the inside. Our uniqueness makes us who we are. By being true to ourselves, we also give everyone else permission to do the same.
10. Practice kindness.
Intentional kindness is life-giving. It works wonders in putting people at ease and improving relationships. A smile or kind gesture can make someone’s day brighter. Being kind is an easy practice that enhances our own lives and the lives of others, whether we know them or not.
Our lives are meant to be lived fully and completely, without regret. We never know how long we have, so let’s start living a life free of regrets today and every day.
No regrets, you swear to yourself as you move through life. But the daily grind, the end of another year and the beginning of a new one may make you wonder: Am I making the most of my time on Earth?
Your elders can provide some perspective.
“If you get to the end of your life with no regrets at all, you probably haven’t lived that interesting a life,” Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, told TODAY about his conversations with older Americans. “But they can’t believe how people waste their time. Petty fights, resentments and worry.”
Pillemer, author of “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans,” and his team interviewed 1,500 people over 65 about what haunts them most about their life choices.
Simple ways to be happy right now – and every day
Here are their biggest regrets and their advice on how not to make the same mistakes:
1. Not being careful enough when choosing a life partner
The elders agreed choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions a human being makes, but looking back over their own experience, they believe many people aren’t careful enough, Pillemer said. They’re too impulsive, perceive the relationship as a “last-chance leap,” or they slide into the inevitable.
One woman who had been in a bad relationship told him: It’s better not to marry than to marry the wrong person. Some learned that hard lesson from a first marriage.
Their advice: Take the time to get to know someone before committing. Really make sure the person is the right one.
2. Not resolving a family estrangement
Some of the unhappiest older people Pillemer met were those who had a rift with a child and no longer had contact with him or her. Almost all wished they had tried harder to reconcile, asked for forgiveness, apologized or tried to communicate before it became too late.
“The kinds of things that seemed worth saying ‘My way or the highway’ when you were 40 and they were 18 usually never seem worth it at 80,” he said. “Even if their relationships with their other children were great, the one with whom there was this irreparable rift still caused them a lot of remorse and anguish.”
Their advice: If it’s within your power to resolve an estrangement — whether with a child, parent, a sibling or a friend — do whatever you can to repair that rift. Explore opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation.
“My own experience of being told I would die, helps me live without regrets,” says author Remy . [+] Blumenfeld, pictured here with dogs Molly and Zephyr
Most of us die with deep regrets about how we spent our lives. It sounds very heavy. But if you’d like to have access to your end-of-life wisdom right now, while there’s still time to do something about it, you can. You don’t need to have faced your own mortality to benefit from my experience, and the end of life experiences of many other people just like you. I feel certain you’ll come away feeling much brighter.
In 1995 I got so sick that doctors at St Thomas’s Hospital in London allowed my partner to bring my dog into the hospital ward. That’s how certain medics were that I would be dead by the morning. Both my then partner, Gavin, and my dog, an Irish Terrier called Sam, slept with me for what everyone thought would be my last night.
Before all this happened, I knew that my partner, family, friends, and dog were more important to me than any achievements or possessions. Of course, I knew this – we all know it, right? Rationally this made sense to me. But I didn’t feel it in my gut. I didn’t live it. Like most of us, I was defined by my job and my home. I thought this was how others defined me too.
In his book A New Earth spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle writes beautifully about how we are all taught from an early age to identify with “doing” and “having.” “I am this potato print” “I am this doll.” Our parents, who were themselves shown love by our grandparents through “doing” and “having,” take us to the zoo, the movies or the ball game; they buy us toys and treats. What we crave, first as children and later as adults, writes Tolle, is “being” -the intimate closeness we feel in the wordless connection we get from touch and scent and looking into the eyes of someone we love. This is “being.”
When I was first told by Doctors who really knew what they were talking about that it was unlikely I would live more than a year, everything I’d done, all my achievements, and everything I’d accumulated, all my possessions, meant nothing to me. Nothing. None of the other noise – the gossip, the grudges; the rivalry or competition- meant anything to me either.
Suddenly, all that mattered to me was this: Who I love. And who loves me.
This is why I was not at all surprised to learn of the hundreds of profound end of life experiences, witnessed by an extraordinary palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware. The dying people she listened to had experienced exactly what I had experienced.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five regrets which Bronnie noted:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
They felt they’d missed out on some of their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. A lot of men (and some women) talked about this regret. All of the men Bronnie met deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a compromised existence and never became who they felt they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end, Bronnie concludes. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have more silliness in their life.
Based on the article she first wrote, Bronnie released a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for.
The tragedy is that most of us only come to this profound awareness on our deathbed, when it’s too late for us to do anything about it. All we are left with is our regrets.
I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have been given a diagnosis, mistakenly believed to be terminal, when I was so young. The expected human life span of 83.4 years is 1000 months. Yes, 83.4 x 12 = 1000. Assuming you will live to 100, you can do your own math to figure out how long you have left. However, if you don’t want to die with a lot of regrets:
Live a life that’s true to who you feel you are, not driven by what others expect
Don’t spend so much time ‘at work’
Express your feelings
Keep in touch with your friends
Laugh and be silly
When you too access your end of life wisdom, you will feel that your life is not about your possessions or your achievements. It’s about who you loved and who loved you. So why not get a jump on it and embrace this wisdom and those you love – right now.
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[success]People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
Thich Nhat Hanh[/success]
Today someone is living a life they’re proud of. Is it you?
If not, remember this, if you never let go of what doesn’t work for you, you never grow. The greatest satisfaction at the end of the day as you rise to the level of your true greatness, is to be able to say I’m leaving the game of life with no regrets. You CAN do it.
Life isn’t always an easy mission. There’s some danger and excitement, joy and sorrow and crazy things sometimes happen.
And all the while you’re expected to fulfill the most challenging tasks or projects; those daily activities that use up every ounce of energy. Life doesn’t even arrive with guarantees.
People get wounded and hurt; lose loved ones and have things broken beyond repair, and yet, every day brings a fresh start filled with new possibilities.
Don’t expect life to be a totally smooth, unbroken path; not only will you be disappointed, but you’ll be incredibly bored too. At the same time don’t let your worries or your past be your guide.
Sometimes the hardest part about changing and growing is being able to let go of the old and embrace the new. If you’re ready to see a change…make one.
1. Choose the extraordinary
Each day you’re offered an opportunity to live a more extraordinary life. It doesn’t matter your starting point, it matters that you start.
Give up wasting your time and energy regretting something you’ve done or wishing that things could be different.
Stop listening to the voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough. Allow yourself to be fully human, authentic, and vulnerable and engage deeply in this thing we call life. “Dream your life, then live your dream.”
Most ordinary people only see what’s possible. The extraordinary, dream not of what’s possible or likely, but what’s impossible. And as they visualize it, they begin to see it clearly as a real possibility. Remember there’s nothing ordinary about you.
2. Don’t hold yourself back
Asking is one of the most unused principle of success.
Some of the most successful, happy people got that way by knowing how to ask. But most people are too afraid to ask for time, money, support and guidance for fear of being rejected, or fear of hearing the dreaded word ‘no’. If you’re one of them, remind yourself you’re simply saying no to yourself.
Don’t reject yourself before you give others a chance to accept you and say yes. Give them the opportunity to help you. Allowing others to help can be one of the greatest gifts you give to another.
You don’t have to go it alone. Be smart enough to know you need help, brave enough to ask and strong enough to accept.
3. Be for, not against
Affirmations are powerful forces in your life. Whether you know it or not you are constantly affirming to yourself.
What are you saying to yourself on a regular basis? Is it something positive or negative?
Are you projecting a confident, positive attitude on the outside, but inside your inner conversations are that you don’t think you’re as good as everyone else? Or do you constantly remind yourself of every problem you have instead of counting every blessing?
Practice keeping your inner conversations on all that’s positive in this beautiful world of ours and pretty soon you’ll have far less negative experiences to even think about.
4. Be willing to let go
Sometimes you just have to find the strength to let go, and it can be the hardest thing you ever do. Don’t believe those who say it it takes more strength to hold on, or that letting go is weakness. It takes a lot of strength and courage to be willing to let go and then to actually do it.
Letting go isn’t giving up. It’s being willing to recognize enough is enough and have faith that the new path you’re about to take will lead to something wonderful.
5. Challenge catastrophic thinking
Its easy to exaggerate experiences, especially when you feel afraid. It’s easy to imagine dreadful things happening, letting worry carry you away.
Always remember every problem does have a solution and things generally never turn out as badly as you thought they might. They might even be a whole lot better.
You might discover hidden blessings that you never even thought of.
A thought is just a thought. You might need to get a new perspective on the situation.
Read something inspirational, go to a movie. Take physical action, run, walk, head for the gym. Don’t buy into the noise of distorted thinking, however loud and persistent it might be.
Don’t miss out on the sunshine of today by giving attention to the clouds you think are on the horizon of tomorrow.
6. Make time count
You’re a history maker. With every moment you’re creating your destiny…your legacy. Make sure you don’t let it slip by without paying attention.
Life is beautiful and can work in strange ways. Remember you won’t start a fire without a spark. Choose something you want and wait and work towards it. It might feel as though it’s taking forever to arrive. And then it happens and it’s done.
Don’t simply move on to the next thing. Take the time and appreciate. Appreciate the memories you made along the way. Ultimately the journey is happiness. Be aware. Don’t miss it.
In the comments below I’d love to know…
What do you need to do so you won’t end up living with regrets?
As always, thank you for reading, and contributing. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say on this topic. You always have such wisdom to share.
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Have you ever done something that you deeply regret? Do you wish you could go back and change what happened?
How do you move on and learn to live life with no regrets?
I have lived, traveled and worked in almost 120 countries throughout the world and have found myself in every type of situation.
We have all done things in life that we would not necessarily go back and do again, but does that mean we must live with regret?
I left home to see the world at 18 or 19 years old and didn’t come back for 10 years. So I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I wouldn’t go back and do again.
Here are a couple of my thoughts on how to live with no regrets:
1) Let Yourself Off the Hook
One of the greatest problems in life is that we don’t forgive ourselves for the mistakes that we’ve made. We carry them around and we beat ourselves up about them.
Understand this, the person who did those things in your past is not the same person you are today. In fact, you are a completely different person with different experiences, different knowledge, different wisdom, and different insights.
The person who did those things that you regret is not you. It was a younger version of yourself. Almost like another person all together.
So let yourself off the hook.
2) Everyone Makes Mistakes
Making mistakes is a normal part of life. It’s as natural as breathing in and breathing out. They are what help us grow and learn. They are what help us become different versions of ourselves.
The next time you are feeling burdened by regret, try saying to yourself:
“I freely forgive myself for any mistake that I have ever made.”
If you do that, and actually forgive yourself, you can move forward and get on with your life.
3) Look For the Lesson
Finally, try to ask yourself:
What did I learn from this experience? What is this experience trying to teach me? Should I be doing more of something or less of something so I don’t make this same mistake again?
If you look into your most difficult experiences for a lesson, you will always find one.
As long as you learn from each experience, and take that learning with you to other experiences, that’s progress. That’s living without regret.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to leave you with a thought to share with your friends and followers:
“Your life today is the result of all of your choices and decisions in the past. When you make new choices, you create a new future.” @BrianTracy
Now I’d love to hear from you. So my question today is:
What have you done in your life to move past things you regret?
Leave a comment below, and share your experience.
If you want to gain more self-confidence and learn to truly forgive and live without regret, click the button below to learn to take my self-confidence assessment .
Watch The Video Here
Shareable Quotes on How to Live Life Without Regrets
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian’s goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.
In old age, lifelong singles who chose single life have no regrets
Posted January 26, 2015
When people who have been single all their lives get to their later years, some are leading happy lives with no big regrets and others are much less contented with how their lives have unfolded. What predicts who will end up joyful about their lives lived single, even in old age, and who ends up regretful?
The two main approaches to answering such questions are (1) studies based on large numbers of participants, sometimes representative national samples, who answer brief survey questions; and (2) studies based on small numbers of people (not representative samples), who are usually interviewed in person and in depth.
A recently published study is based on the latter approach. Irish men and women who had been single for life were interviewed in 2012, when they were between 65 and 86 years old. The 26 participants included singles who were middle class and working class, urban and rural. None had ever cohabited.
For the cohort in question, to be a young and single in Ireland had been challenging. As authors Virpi Timonen and Martha Doyle noted, “As young adults in the late 1950s, 1960s and in the 1970s, all participants had been socialized in a patriarchal society in which divorce and contraception were prohibited, and non-marital co-habitation and sexual relations were taboo.”
In wide-ranging interviews, the many topics participants discussed included their backgrounds, work life, social life, family life, and their thoughts about living single from early adulthood up to the present. One factor was clearly the most significant in predicting whether they were, as 65+ year-olds, happy with their lifelong singlehood: whether they had chosen to be single.
Lifelong singles who did not choose to stay single (“single by constraint”)
Two main structural constraints stood in the way of marriage for singles who did not choose to stay single for life. First, some had cared extensively and intensively for other family members who needed a great deal of help. Sometimes they cared for one needy person after another, and never did have a chance to pursue their own social lives. The second constraint came from demanding employment, usually working-class jobs with long hours.
When those who were single-by-constraint did pursue romantic relationships, they did not find satisfactory partners. The authors noted that Irish husbands and wives were often expected to adhere to strict gender roles, and single women who were resistant to such roles may have had an especially difficult time finding an egalitarian mate.
Reflecting on their current lives as seniors, those who were single by constraint (14 of the 26 participants) were likely to express regrets about their single status. Some were currently seeking romantic relationships. For working-class men, the economic barriers were not as formidable as they had been in their early adult years. As seniors, they had a state pension and subsidized housing.
Working-class women felt differently. Their regrets were more about not having daughters to care for them. They were not looking to marry.
Lifelong single people who chose to live single (“single by choice”)
The single men and women who chose to be single said that they wanted to be single as young adults and they still wanted to be single now. The authors described them as “freedom-focused.” They wanted to make their own choices about how to live, what they would and would not spend money on, how often to socialize, and with whom. They valued autonomy and often viewed married life as constraining.
Single people in Ireland who chose to be single often had the same experiences as the constrained singles in providing extensive care to relatives who needed help. But they did not view that caring as constraining. They said they chose to reciprocate the love and attention they received themselves as children.
The people who were single by choice told the interviewers that they enjoyed their own company, and appreciated the opportunity to pursue interests such as writing.
As one of the single-by-choice women said:
“I’m very glad I never married, yes, because I think I’ve had a chance to do much more….[Her married sister has the companionship of her husband, but…] you can’t have too much bloody companionship, I’d like more peace on my own…my money I can fiddle around and nobody telling me I can’t buy new curtains…so the independence…is priceless, in fact I can’t see any advantage to being married.”
In the conclusion of their paper, the authors begin by underscoring a point that they seem to realize is not obvious to many of their fellow academic colleagues, even though it should be:
“It is important to highlight the fact that singlehood was a conscious choice for many older people in their youth, and continues to be their unequivocal preference in later life.”
Reference: Timonen, V., & Doyle, M. (2014). Life-long singlehood: intersections of the past and the present. Ageing & Society, 34, 1749-1770.
[Note. Sorry to have taken a bit longer between posts than usual. As you may have noticed, the PT site has been redesigned, and I have been holding out for that to be (nearly) finished. During the process, I have not been notified when comments were posted, and that is still continuing, but I can still access them – I just need to remember to go to look for them. Anyway, I’m sorry for any inconvenience to readers.]
[Photo is from Google images, available for reuse]
We all have them and struggle with them. To live fully is to have regrets; they are an unpleasant, though unavoidable, part of the human condition.
You may know people who proudly declare that they’ve lived boldly and have no regrets. Believing that we shouldn’t experience regret places us in double jeopardy: we experience them and wonder what’s wrong with us for having them. If we have no regrets, then we either haven’t been paying attention or are living in denial. We all screw up sometimes.
We might define regrets as carrying sorrow or shame regarding past actions or decisions. There are many things we might regret. Perhaps we regret our partnership choice, decisions around our health, finances, or career, or not having spent enough time with our loved ones. Maybe we regret that we didn’t relish our life enough or take more risks. Perhaps we feel badly for having hurt others and are paralyzed by shame to recognize the harm we’ve caused by our narcissism or insensitivity.
A major challenge of being human is to allow ourselves to have regrets without being debilitated by them. Obsessing on past actions or decisions that we feel badly about can lead to depression and rob us of the joy of living. Replaying scenes in our mind and wishing we had done things differently can keep us spinning our wheels, creating much misery. Caught in the grip of the woulda, coulda, shouldas, we’re hijacked from the present moment and punish ourselves with an excessive barrage of self-incriminations.
Working with Our Regrets
Wisdom rarely arises without realizing how unwise or self-absorbed we’ve been. Good decisions grow out of the muddy waters of our bad decisions. Knowing what we know now, it’s all too easy to look back and wish we’d made different choices. One of the gravest disservices we inflict on ourselves is to judge the decisions we made then based upon what we know now. We only gain such knowledge through the portal of trial and error — and making mistakes.
Making space for regrets and being gentle with them is a step toward softening their hold over us. Affirming that it’s natural to have regrets may relieve some of the shame that keeps us frozen.
In a climate of gentle self-acceptance, we can turn our attention to what we might learn from our miscues. Redemption lies not in trying to eliminate regrets, but in using them as a doorway to increase our understanding of ourselves, others, and life itself.
If we made poor relationship choices in the past, we can make better ones in the future. If we hurt someone due to disrespectful or self-destructive behavior, we can commit ourselves to a path of personal growth and mindfulness that increases respect and sensitivity toward ourselves and others. We can consider making amends if doing so is not an unwelcome intrusion. We can work with a therapist or join a twelve-step program to help us move forward. As we make wiser choices, we will have less regrets.
One category of regrets that can be especially troubling is when we’ve hurt others, especially if we’ve done so intentionally. In most instances, it is unintentional. We were acting from an ignorant or unconscious place. We’re hurting inside, so we lash out. We may not be fully aware of our motivation. We may want another to feel the pain that we’re in — a misguided attempt to muster some sense of power or justice. We can use our regrets as an impetus to find healthier ways to affirm ourselves, communicate our needs, and set boundaries in a healthy way.
Recognizing that we did our best with the information or self-awareness we had at the time might relieve a substantial burden of our regrets. But it might also be helpful or necessary for emotional healing to notice and embrace remorse for our actions.
Remorse refers to a deep moral or emotional anguish for something we’ve done that we deem to be shameful or wrong. It is comparable to healthy shame (as opposed to toxic shame), which gets our attention and can help us orient to life and people in a more attuned way.
Remorse includes a deep, soulful sorrow. This is different than attacking ourselves or clinging to a core belief that we’re bad and don’t deserve love. In fact, toxic shame is often the main obstacle to allowing ourselves to feel sorrow and remorse. If we equate the sorrow of hurting someone with the conviction that we’re an awful person, we’re unlikely to open to our sadness. But if we recognize that a part of the human condition is that we sometimes hurt each other, mostly without realizing it fully, then we’re more likely to welcome the unavoidable sorrows that are a part of life.
If we can find the courage and wisdom to feel the natural sadness of having hurt someone, then we may find a healing pathway for ourselves, as well as a key to repairing relationship rifts. If our partner senses how sad or badly we feel about a hurtful behavior or betrayal, then they’re more inclined to trust that we really “get” it and are less likely to repeat it. Our apologies, when coupled with a deeply felt remorse, are infinitely more powerful than the mere words, “I’m sorry.”
Resting in the cauldron of our sorrow without denigrating ourselves can allow us to become a deeper person, and also to cultivate a more soulful empathy toward others. The redemption of self-forgiveness dawns as we bring gentleness to our sorrow, learn lessons in a deeply felt way, and dedicate our lives to living with greater integrity, honesty, and mindfulness. We can have regrets without being their prisoner. We can make wiser choices and thereby have less regrets going forward.
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Last week I challenged you to do an experiment this first month of January – to live each day as if there’s no tomorrow. We talked about why this is a wise way to live. How the scripture say: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:11 Wisdom is the art of know how to live well. Last week we talked about how to live passionately—for what matters most, to love God, to love others, to follow God into that passionate purpose He created you uniquely to fulfill.
I imagine as the week went on you forgot, and you made mistakes. You failed to love God by putting him first, and you didn’t even love people all that well. You let fear, busyness, and worry rob your passion and purpose, and now you look back and have regrets. It’s not possible to live with no mistakes. It’s not possible to live your whole life without sin or failure, but it is possible to live with no regrets! Here’s how…
1. Live Clean with God Daily
Live a “no junk in the pipes” life every day. Keep your relational pipes clean every day, as if today were your last because life’s too short to let relational junk build up in your pipes. You have to start by learning to keep the relational pipes clean with God. Otherwise, you can’t really love people well and live with no regrets daily.
All people grow up under the condemning voice of shame. We all feel it because apart from God’s grace, it’s the truth. People know deep down the words Paul wrote:
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me? – Romans 7:18-19, 24
Shame drives us to feel wretched and condemned – full of regrets. People naturally feel this hopeless sense of judgment, so they run from God – the Source of Love. Our pride makes us protect and defend and justify anything wrong that we do, but then we just stay stuck getting hurt, hurting others, feeling guilty, and feeling lots of regret.
When I used to do something I knew was wrong, I had one of two ways of dealing with it. Either I’d wallow in it for days, sometimes weeks or months—feeling guilty, unworthy, horrible. Then after awhile, I’d resolve to try, try, try harder (often resulting in even larger doses of guilt because I’d inevitably fail). Or the other way I’d deal with wrongs, I’d justify and rationalize them by lowering my standards. In reality, trying harder didn’t change the inside of me at all.
But there’s another way…
2. The Way of Forgiveness
God has paid to forgive us for all our wrongs—that’s what He foretold he would do through His Messiah to come. Isaiah wrote this 780 years before Jesus came:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53 (700+ years before Jesus came, His efforts were prophesied).
As Jesus hung between two thieves who had likely even murdered someone, one mocked Jesus and demanded he prove He was the messiah by getting him off the cross. The other thief said, “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:41-43
It’s never too late, and it’s never too soon to be forgiven and set right with God. As the thief demonstrated, God’s ready to forgive and take back anyone, anytime, without doing anything except admitting they need Him.
Most all of us have relational pain in our past. Someone you’ve wronged, someone whose wronged you. With God’s help, there’s another way. The way of forgiveness.
Jesus explained his last night on earth:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:9-13
Love is a verb. Love gives, love serves, love sacrifices—that’s what love is. To love is a decision of the will, not an emotion. The power to act comes from God, the feelings follow from responding to God. None of it depends on the other person. It’s your choice!
3. God Wants to Lead Us to a Higher Love
Here’s the secret: Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.” We can’t give what we don’t possess. We don’t have it in us to love sacrificially because too much has been taken from us. We need too much. We more often love to get because we don’t have enough to give. We give, but there’s a secret pricetag attached, and when people don’t pay us back, or hurt us, wrong us then we get angry and resentful. When they hurt us then we live out of that hurt which hurts others, and we don’t even see it. As a result, we build up regrets. Instead, God wants to teach us a better way!
4. Live Clean with People You’ve Wronged
If you’ve wronged another person, don’t let another moment pass without seeking to clean it up. If you get in that habit, you will live a regret-free life.
Jesus said this is so important to God:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24
Jesus says this is SO important. Don’t pretend to worship God and be this giving sacrificial Christian if you’re not willing to do what matters most to God—living at peace with others.
If you have accepted God’s forgiveness, God’s Spirit lives with you and will guide you to live clean with people you’ve wronged. If you listen to that tiny voice in your conscience and obey it, He will prevent you from relational regret.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18
If you ask God, he’ll show you—are there any people you’ve hurt, or the relationship has been severed, or you’ve wronged them, as soon as you realize it—don’t procrastinate, go immediately, call immediately, email immediately and ask forgiveness, make things right—even if they aren’t willing to make amends. You can live with no regrets—no junk in the pipes-you’ve done your part.
5. Live Clean with People Who’ve Wronged You
You’ve got to forgive and let it go when people wrong or hurt you. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. Forgiveness is not optional for Christ Followers. In Jesus’ day, they had the 3 strikes you’re out rule too! Peter, thinking he was being magnanimous asked Jesus: “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! Matthew 18:21-22
Forgive as God forgives you. Life’s too short to do anything else. Keep clean and live with no regrets.
Sometimes it may feel impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.
Looking in the rear-view mirror can cause an accident!
Regret. It seems to be a fact of life: the one who got away, the job you didn’t take, the fight you wish you hadn’t had, the choice of the wrong school, the investment you didn’t make, the money you didn’t save, the move you wish you’d made, and on and on and on.
That’s the predictability of life; there will definitely be something along the way you will wish you’d done differently. Regrets can be big — choosing the wrong career — or small — picking a dress you really don’t feel good in for the senior prom. They can occur daily, or you can have overarching ones that just seem to color everything you do.
There are a number of cognitive reasons why regret is a factor for most of us. To read more on the literature behind this, visit the National Institutes of Health website on the subject.
Regret on its own is not a bad thing; in fact, it can spur us to action. The parent who has been working too much and might be preoccupied around the children might happen to see an ad, or a parent playing in a carefree manner at the playground with their similar-aged child. This parent might feel a twinge of regret for not focusing on their own child more and may then actually spend more time with their child. People who get terminal diagnoses may regret time wasted and realize that every second is precious, and resolve to enjoy each and every moment they have left. Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dyin’,” sums this experience up well. Someone who regrets choosing a particular career path may find themselves approaching retirement and resolve to quit and pursue the career of their dreams. The examples of people who turned something around, tried something new, or charted a new course because regret motivated them are endless.
But for some people, regret becomes something more like an albatross. Too many regrets can sometimes materialize into an overall feeling of being wrong or bad: “I never seem to make the right decisions” or “I always choose the wrong thing for me.” Or regret may cause paralysis because you mourn what you could have or should have done, and can’t seem to make a better decision going forward. This becomes like driving down the highway, constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what you have left behind. Not only do you not enjoy the scenery as you pass it, but it’s dangerous to drive without looking ahead and being present to what’s beside and in front of you.
If regret has become debilitating for you and is not spurring you to improve, but rather feels like the small mirror you are constantly checking behind you, maybe it’s time to let go of the regrettable experiences and move on to something new. While you can learn from any mistake, the only thing any human being has to work with is their present, and hopefully future, state. The present is where the action really is, and being present to where you are now and resolving to make better decisions going forward should be your commitment. But if you have become locked on the rear-view mirror, how do you tear your attention away? After all, you might be looking at something pretty appealing back there that you left behind or choose to ignore!
Consider these steps to stop looking back and start being present to your present, and working on your future:
- Own it. Yes, whatever it is that happened, happened. You made the wrong choice, said the wrong thing, went in the wrong direction. Whatever it is, it’s done. And you know what? It’s over. The fact of the human condition is that you won’t always choose wisely, and you won’t choose in your best interests every time. Sometimes you don’t have the right information. Sometimes emotions overrule your thinking, sometimes thinking overrules your “gut.” You might not have enough time to consider options, or you might have pressure on you to choose a way. Whatever it is, the bottom line is that the conditions are not always optimal for anyone to make the perfect decision every time. Give yourself a break. Own it, and love yourself anyway. It’s done and you can’t go back in history and rewrite. Cry. Mourn. Scream. Pound the pillows. Do whatever you need to (without harming yourself or others) to get the emotion out, then let it go.
- Learn from it. Try and take an objective view of what happened. Why did you do/decide what you did? This is not an opportunity to bash yourself, but rather to examine the event critically. You can learn a lot about how you make decisions by trying to understand what went awry. Do you need to do a better job next time of gathering information? Do you need more time to think something through? Are you unduly influenced by others? Note what you need to do differently the next time you have a decision to make.
- Write out what you would like. If you regret a lost (or found) relationship, a career choice, a financial decision, an educational experience, then instead of focusing on “what if I had,” focus on “what I want.” You can’t revisit the past, but you can turn your attention to something you want. So this career isn’t the best one; how do you paint a picture of something you do want? So the person you let get away got away; how do you create a life you can enjoy as a single person? So you didn’t go to the school of your dreams; how can you structure a plan to take classes or become involved at the school you did go to? Paint a picture in as much detail as you can about where you’d like to head. This will start turning your attention away from the rear-view mirror and to the windshield looking forward.
- Become entranced by today. Turn your attention to senses. Smell, taste, hear, and enjoy whatever it is you are doing at a greater level than you have done before. Really engage with your world. Notice things you haven’t noticed before, and resolve to be PRESENT with whatever is going on. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Whatever has happened to you in your past has no power over this present moment, because life is now.” Get involved with the now and heighten your senses to what’s around you. The mind can’t focus on two things at once, so if you turn your attention to your surroundings, you won’t be able to focus on your rear-view regrets.
- Make a plan for something you can do that might help to cancel out what you regret. For example, you didn’t spend enough time with your kids growing up and now they won’t visit you much? How about volunteering at an orphanage or joining an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters? Missed out on the career you always wanted? What about taking up some hobby you are passionate about and pursuing that instead? Life is not linear, nor is it black and white. What shades of grey could you incorporate into your life that wouldn’t necessarily change the regret, but might add something important to the life you are leading today?
If you keep driving with your eyes on what you’ve left behind, you are bound to eventually crash. Take the steps to get your eyes back on the road and see the scenery of today, and focus on where you are going.